“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Women’s college athletes don’t need another coddling parent. They need a coach.

June 23, 2017
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Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in huddle with team during timeout of game vs Louisiana State, Baton Rouge, LA 2/10/2005 (Getty Images)
This week marks a dual commemoration: the 45th anniversary of the signing of Title IX coincides with the first anniversary of the passing of Pat Summitt, who turned that law into such an equal rights spear for women. So it seems right to dwell for a moment on the collective state of young women athletes on campuses today, to ask whether they are weaker or stronger than yesterday — and whether Pat could be the same kind of force for them in this current snowflakey, iGen safe- space climate. The truth? She might get herself fired.
The data shows that since Summitt left coaching in 2011, women athletes have become more anxious, more prone to depression, less adult, and more insecure than ever before. What is up with that?
According to a 2016 NCAA survey, 76 percent of all Division I women athletes said they would like to go home to their moms and dads more often, and 64 percent said they communicate with their parents at least once a day, a number that rises to 73 percent among women’s basketball players. And nearly a third reported feeling overwhelmed.
Social psychologists say these numbers aren’t surprising, but rather reflect a larger trend in all college students that is attributable at least in part to a culture of hovering parental-involvement, participation trophies, and constant connectivity via smartphones and social media, which has not made adolescents more secure and independent, but less.
Since 2012, there has been a pronounced spike in mental health issues on campuses, with almost 58 percent of students reporting anxiety, and 35 percent experiencing depression, according to annual freshman surveys and other assessments.
Research psychologist Jean Twenge wrote a forthcoming book pointedly entitled “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” She says that the new generation of students is preoccupied with safety. “Including what they call ‘emotional safety,’ ” she said. “Perhaps because they grew up interacting online and through text, they believe words can incur damage.”
At the same time, accompanying this anxiety, iGens have unrealistic expectations and exaggerated opinions of themselves. Nearly 60 percent of high school students say they expect to get a graduate degree — when just 9 to 10 percent actually will. And 47 percent of Division I women’s basketball players think it’s at least “somewhat likely” they will play professional or Olympic ball, but the reality? The WNBA drafts just 36 players, 0.9 percent.
“If you compare iGen to Gen-Xers or boomers, they are much more likely to say their abilities are ‘above average,’ ” Twenge said.
This combination of dissonant factors is creating an increasingly tense relationship between overconfident yet anxious players, and coaches who bring them down to earth. In women’s sports especially, there has been an ugly surge in complaints of “verbal abuse,” with investigations at more than a dozen programs between 2010-2016. In some cases, coaches were relieved for legitimate cause. But in others, good decorated coaches were suspended, fired, or resigned even though there was no evidence of mistreatment. At Nebraska, Connie Yori, was the 2010 coach of the year and took the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and seven NCAA tournaments in 14 years, before she quit last season in the wake of complaints that she was “overly critical” of players, and made them weigh themselves.
Something more is going on here than a new awareness of bullying, and rebellion against fossilized methods.
Talk to coaches, and they will tell you they believe their players are harder to teach, and to reach, and that disciplining is beginning to feel professionally dangerous. Not even U-Conn.’s virtuoso coach Geno Auriemma is immune to this feeling, about which he delivered a soliloquy at the Final Four.
“Recruiting enthusiastic kids is harder than it’s ever been,” he said. “. . . They haven’t even figured out which foot to use as a pivot foot and they’re gonna act like they’re really good players. You see it all the time.”
Coaches are so concerned about this that at the annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association spring meeting they brought in no fewer than three speakers to address it. Youth-motivator Tim Elmore lectured on “Understanding Generation iY.” And a pair of doctors discussed “Promoting Mental Health Strategies and Awareness.”
It doesn’t take a social psychologist to perceive that at least some of today’s coach-player strain results from the misunderstanding of what the job of a coach is, and how it’s different from that of a parent. This is a distinction that admittedly can get murky. The coach-player relationship has odd complexities and semi-intimacies, yet a critical distance too. It’s not like any other bond or power structure. A parent may seek to smooth a path, but the coach has to point out the hard road to be traversed, and it’s not their job to find the shortcuts. Coaches can’t afford to feel sorry for players; they are there to stop them from feeling sorry for themselves.
oaches are not substitute parents; they’re the people parents send their children to for a strange alchemical balance of toughening yet safekeeping, dream facilitating yet discipline and reality check. The vast majority of what a coach teaches is not how to succeed, but how to shoulder unwanted responsibility and deal with unfairness and diminished role playing, because without those acceptances success is impossible.
Players can let that demoralize them — or shape them into someone stronger. The choice is ultimately theirs, not the coach’s. And that’s the thing most people miss about coaches: how strangely powerful yet powerless they ultimately are, how beholden they are to the aspirations and frailties of other people’s children. It’s a beautiful, terrible relationship that can tilt all too easily, and usually tilts hard, into undying loyalty or lifelong hard feelings.
The bottom line is that coaches have a truly delicate job ahead of them with iGens. They must find a way to establish themselves as firm allies of players who are more easily wounded than ever before yet demand they earn praise through genuine accomplishment.
Based on what I knew of Pat and her intuitive dealings with vulnerable players such as Chamique Holdsclaw, who has become a powerful campus mental health advocate, she probably would have found a way to work with and build up iGens, just as she did boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials. But it would not have been an easy adaptation.
Believe it or not, for most of Summitt’s 1,098-victory career at Tennessee, what she really taught was how to deal with fear and falling. In the 21 years I knew her, only three times did she win championships. All the rest of those seasons ended in some kind of failure.
Much as she loved to see her players win, what she was really interested in was “how they respond,” she said. She said time and again that what she really was trying to do was convert girls into strong, independent women. It was an inevitably painful undertaking.
“If everyone loved it all the time,” she said, “that meant we were doing something wrong.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


By Ryan Holiday
June 6, 2017
File:Eisenhower d-day.jpg
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. 'Full victory-nothing less' to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. Eisenhower is meeting with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) of the 101st Airborne Division, photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944.

On June 6th 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower pulled off the most stunning and impressive invasion in military history. A total of 156,000 Allied troops invaded the beaches of Normandy and by June 11 more than 326,000 troops had crossed with over 100,000 tons of military equipment. One of those men was my grandfather.
Eisenhower’s critics often harped that he was more of an organizer than a leader. But it was in the days after D-Day that Eisenhower illustrated one of the most profound and clear moments of leadership — an example that entrepreneurs can follow.
After their hard-won initial successes, the Allied troops became bogged down in the hedgerows of France. These obstacles — half earth, half hedge, sometimes 15 feet tall — plus the reality of coordinating that many men and so much material created a temporary stall, allowing the Germans to wage a series of counteroffensives — a final blitzkrieg of some 200,000 men.
The German blitzkrieg was one of the most intimidating and shocking developments in modern warfare. At the beginning of World War II, columns of Panzer tanks rushed into Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France with devastating results and little opposition. In most cases, the commanders confronted by the Germans simply surrendered rather than face what felt to them like an invincible, indefatigable monster bearing down.
The blitzkrieg strategy was designed to exploit the flinch. The Allied forces would collapse at the sight of what appeared to be overwhelming force. Its success depended completely on such a response. The military strategy worked because the set-upon troops saw the offensive force as an enormous obstacle.
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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How to Be a Good Leader? Carry the Luggage

May 20, 2017
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Carla Overbeck (current Duke Soccer Coach) at the 1996 Olympics
Chances are you’ve never heard of Carla Overbeck. She was captain of the U.S. national women’s soccer team that won Olympic gold in 1996 and the World Cup in 1999, a team that over four years of international play posted an 84-6-6 record, making them one of the winningest squads in the history of sports.
Overbeck was arguably the key to their success -- “the heartbeat of that team and the engine,” and “the essence of the team,” as one teammate put it. Yet no one has ever heard of her. She wasn’t the best player on the team, or the most talented. She played defense, and rarely scored, though she played almost every minute of every game. To the outside world she was invisible, but to her teammates she was indispensable.
Overbeck also had one habit that seems kind of eccentric: When the players arrived at a hotel, she would carry everyone’s bags to their rooms for them.
That story about Overbeck schlepping the luggage appears in The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams, a remarkable new book that challenges some conventional ideas about leadership.
Its author, Sam Walker, is an editor at the Wall Street Journal and an avid sports fan. He set out more than a decade ago to study the greatest teams in sports history and figure out what traits they shared. He reckoned you could apply those same principles to business.
Over the course of 11 years, Walker studied 1200 teams in 37 sports. He traveled around the world conducting interviews. After all that he could find only one thing that extraordinary teams had in common, and it wasn’t what you’d expect.
It was not the coach. It was not a superstar player. The key to success was that each had an extraordinary captain -- like Carla Overbeck.
“The most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness,” Walker argues, “is the character of the player who leads it.”
Click on the link below to read the rest of the article:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Health Authorities Continue to Fail Us

We’re told to listen to doctors and qualified professionals—but they’ve been preaching the same advice for 50 years now

February 16, 2017

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For example, there is no evidence to suggest that the cholesterol in eggs relates to blood cholesterol levels, but we are still advised to only eat up to two a day.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Gary Taubes’ seminal The New York Times article, exposing the fraudulent research and advice from Ancel Keys, that saturated fats clog arteries and cause heart attacks. Titled “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” Taubes documented the history of the health advice we’ve been dished since the 1950s, the fact that the low fat dogma was decided by the government, the low fat diet’s increasingly negative impact on the health of the population, and the backdoor deals that provided certain industries with huge profits at the expense of everyone else.
We have since discovered that much of the research demonizing saturated fat—and fat in general—was in fact funded by sugar and cereal companies looking to keep the conversation away from their commodity’s place in everyday diets. Research conducted over the last 30 or so years reveals there is no evidence the consumption of saturated fats causes heart attacks or strokes; cholesterol’s role in developing heart disease is actually much more complex than we’ve been led to believe. In fact, despite constant protests from nutritionists and government authorities, the research actually shows that low carb diets are significantly more effective than low fat diets. And yet, the government’s dietary recommendations have changed very little.
Now, health authorities have attempted to cover up the fact that they are ignoring current research in favor of dated advice. In 2015, science and nutrition journalist Nina Teicholtz penned an editorial in the British Medical Journal criticizing the USDA’s dietary guidelines for failing to reflect the current scientific literature. After a year of scathing criticism from academics and authorities demanding the article be retracted, independent reviewers stood in favor of Teicholtz and her editorial. One of the most damning paragraphs is as follows:
In conclusion, the recommended diets are supported by a minuscule quantity of rigorous evidence that only marginally supports claims that these diets can promote better health than alternatives. Furthermore, the NEL (Nutrition Evidence Library) reviews of the recommended diets discount or omit important data. There have been at a minimum, three National Institutes of Health funded trials on some 50 ,000 people showing that a diet low in fat and saturated fat is ineffective for fighting heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or cancer. Two of these trials are omitted from the NEL review. The third trial is included, but its results are ignored. This oversight is particularly striking because this trial, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), was the largest nutrition trial in history. Nearly 49, 000 women followed a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains for an average of seven years, at the end of which investigators found no significant advantage of this diet for weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer of any kind. Critics dismiss this trial for various reasons, including the fact that fat consumption did not differ enough significantly between the intervention and control groups, but the percentage of calories from both fat and saturated fat were more than 25% lower in the intervention group than in the control group (26.7% v 36.2% for total fat and 8.8% v 12.1% for saturated fats). The WHI findings have been confirmed by other sizable studies and are therefore hard to dismiss. When the omitted findings from these three clinical trials are factored into the review, the overwhelming preponderance of rigorous evidence does not support any of the dietary committee’s health claims for its recommended diets.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Unspoken Problem in Sports: Concussions

By John O'Sullivan
January 18, 2017

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(This week’s blog was written by Alecko Eskandarian (@alecko11), former US National Team player and current Assistant Coach of the NY Cosmos of the NASL. This article originally appeared 11/18/16 on the Players Tribune and they have graciously granted us permission to reprint it. We have read many articles about concussions, and this one really hit home on how quickly life can change for an athlete with a concussion. Concussions are not a soccer problem; they are a problem across all sports. Thanks to Alecko for addressing such an important topic and for allowing us to reprint.)
My teammate and I were standing outside RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. It was April 2003, our first home game of the season against the Chicago Fire. It was my first official appearance as a professional soccer player. It was a dream come true.
“Let’s take a picture,” he said. “I feel like this is a day we definitely want to remember.” He handed someone his digital camera, we posed together and smiled.
I was a 20-year-old rookie — picked No. 1 by D.C. United in the MLS SuperDraft just a few months prior. I hadn’t played against Kansas City in our season opener, so I had made sure to bust my ass in practice that week. A few days before the game, Coach had even pulled me aside to let me know that he was going to try to get me some minutes. So I put the word out to family and friends. My parents drove down from New Jersey, my cousin flew in from L.A., some friends came up from the University of Virginia.
But I don’t remember seeing anyone at the match. I don’t remember my name being announced over the loudspeaker. I don’t remember the roar of the crowd and the bright lights.
I don’t even remember stepping onto the field.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Our 2016 Books of the Year

December 3, 2016
“You cannot open a book without learning something.” – Confucius
Yes, it is that time of year again, the time where our staff shares some of our favorite reads in the world of coaching, parenting, and athlete development. We are all avid readers and lifelong learners, and every year we pour through numerous books, articles, podcasts and more looking for inspiration and great information to pass on to all of you. Below you will find our favorite books of 2016, the ones we picked up and learned the most from. You can click on any title to cover image to grab it on Amazon. At the end of the article is a link to our favorite books from years past, in case you want to dive deeper or get a book for a parent, coach or athlete in your life. Enjoy.

Best Book for Coaches:

This book was the clear winner for me this year. Most books by coaches (Mike Smith Coaches the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons) talk about their championship season. This book shares how Smith took the Falcons from an also ran to perennial title contender by purposefully building the culture. Then it details how he lost sight of the things that made them great, which eventually cost him his job. The book also contains tremendous insight from Jon Gordon on his work building positive team cultures, and tons a great activities for coaches to do with their teams. This book is a must for any serious coach!

Honorable mention:

Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
How do coaches and leaders get the most out of their people? Start by taking ownership of everything, both good and bad. This great read details lessons learned by the authors during their time as SEAL team commanders with Task Unit Bruiser during the Iraq War, and how any leader can learn from what the SEALs do. Our biggest takeaway: when a leader blames a team member, the blame game starts and excuses start flying. The blame cascades down and ultimately no one takes responsibility. But when leaders have “extreme ownership” then team members will admit to wrongdoing and be held accountable as well. Think about that your next team talk!
The author attended our Way of Champions conference in July 2016, and that is how we learned about this wonderful book. In it, she tells her story as a consultant with a talented but underachieving high school hockey team. She tells how she used her business experience building strength based teams to help every individual understand what their teammates brought to the team, the reasons behind their behavior, and a path forward that eventually leads to a state championship. Monte shares her entire blueprint that coaches can do with their own teams. It is a great read.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Roberto Pool and Anders Ericsson
If you have read The Talent Code or Outliers then you have heard of Anders Ericsson, the researcher on expertise whose work was slightly bastardized by Malcolm Gladwell and others into the false “10,000 Hour Rule.” In this book, Ericsson sets the record straight, replies to other critics of his work, and teaches coaches how to make practice both purposeful and deliberate. There are some real gems in this one.
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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Let’s Stop the Early Sport Specialization Madness!

September 27, 2016

(photo: bretcontreras.com)

(photo: bretcontreras.com)
“I have a question,” said a mother recently at one of my speaking engagements. “I have an 8-year-old son who loves soccer. But the only soccer team in our town requires that he play all year round, and he still wants to play other sports. What are we to do?”
Sound familiar?
Across the country, I hear similar questions all the time. I meet parents who understand that playing a single sport year-round prior to high school is not good for their kids. But they are stuck. There is no alternative. Name any sport, and parents are often faced with a similar dilemma. The only organizations that provide higher level coaching, and where most of the better athletes play, require all or nothing commitments far before any experts recommend them (As a caveat, this article does not pertain to sports considered early specialization sports such as female gymnastics, figure skating, and diving, where elite competitors reach their athletic peak in their mid-teens).
Want a spot for your 8-year-old soccer player? Welcome aboard, as long as you make soccer your primary commitment 11 months a year. Want to play basketball this winter for three months? Sorry, we will give your spot to someone else. Does your family like to camp on summer weekends? Sorry, we have baseball tournaments every weekend, and we don’t take kids on our spring baseball travel team who won’t commit to playing in the summer and fall.
Want to make the high school team? Want to be recruited for college? So many parents feel the pressure to force their kids all in too young, especially when colleges in sports likes women’s soccer and lacrosse are scouting middle school age events. (The NCAA, sadly, has refused to take action, even though the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Associations have drafted and supported proposals banning contact with kids before September 1 of their junior year! Even the Ivy League has asked the NCAA to put a stop to early recruiting.)
The youth sports system, aptly called the “youth sports industrial complex” by ESPN writer Tim Keown, is failing our kids, especially when it comes to early sports specialization. We are robbing our kids of their childhood and the opportunity to experience the joy of participating in multiple sports.
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